Lions coach Gatland dismisses calls to play South Africa ‘A’ twice

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 12: Ben Calveley (L), British and Irish Lions Managing Director, and Warren Gatland, (R) the newly appointed British and Irish Lions Head Coach speak to media during the British and Irish Lions Head Coach Announcement at London Syon Park Hotel on June 12, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland effectively ruled out playing the South Africa ‘A’ side for a second time this week on Saturday instead of the Stormers.

The Lions are due to face the South Africa ‘A’ side on Wednesday followed by the provincial side three days later.

FILE PHOTO: Ben Calveley (L), British and Irish Lions Managing Director, and Warren Gatland, (R) the British and Irish Lions Head Coach, speak to media. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus had expressed his hope that the Lions would consider a second game noting the move would help guard against any further COVID-19 outbreaks.

“If we play a game against a team like the Sharks, the chances of infection are as good as we had when we played Georgia,” Erasmus said.

“We’ve been tested negative two days in a row now. We are in a totally hard bubble; we are moving nowhere. Everybody is negative. The British and Irish squad is negative.”

Erasmus also said the double-header would give South Africa the “best preparation” ahead of the three Test matches in late July and August.

“If the two of us can play the ‘A’ game on Wednesday and play another one on Saturday, I think medically, on player welfare grounds and also for the spectators, it would be wonderful. We would have two good match-ups,” Erasmus said.

“I’m sure Warren and the guys wouldn’t be afraid or scared or say no to that. I’m going to beg until we find really valid medical reasons why that is not the safest option.”

South Africa has only played one Test, against Georgia on July 2, since winning the World Cup in November 2019.

However, Gatland stated that another encounter with the South Africa ‘A’ side was not on the cards.

“We won’t be playing them again on Saturday,” Gatland said.

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber named a strong squad comprising 18 Rugby World Cup winners to face the Lions in what the home side has elevated to be an unofficial fourth Test match.

The Springboks’ preparations for the three-match series have been disrupted by COVID-19 with at least 20 players and staff testing positive and the entire squad having to go into isolation.

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